Gary Snyder

Speaking for the Green of the Leaf

Language is a powerful tool. Humans have found a way to use and abuse it. They have found a way to speak it, write it, and convey it in silence; each way having a sincere impact. I think one way it is misused is when people think that only humans can use language. The animals, plants, and earth become overlooked. Pet owners most often feel that their animal has a certain personality and attitude, most often expressed via body language and specific noises they make. Those who garden or spend time outdoors could say that the way the flowers are blossoming or the color of the vegetables is their method of telling you how they are doing and growing. This is their language. Why don’t we listen to them?

Developing a relationship with our surroundings is just as important as developing a romantic one with other humans. For those oblivious to this connection and do just as they please, they miss out on a lot of beauty, they also work against the earth. We have the largest impact on the earth and when we lose sight of the non-human world around us we are unable to help give a spoken voice to those who do not have it. We are unable to “speak for the green of the leaf.”

Gary Snyder uses the language medium of poetry in his book Turtle Island to help his readers see that humans are not their own entity, but are in fact one amongst the animals and the natural earth. Some of his poems can be read as a call to action, and his use of vivid imagery kick starts thinking about how wrong and distant our relationship with nature has become. His poem, “For the Children” ends with what I feel is a good summary of the collection as a whole.

“To climb these coming crests
one word to you, to
you and your children:

stay together
learn the flowers
go light

This is his advice to us now, to help improve the way people to come act. This last stanza helps to clarify his idea that the relationship between man and nature needs to be rebuilt and strengthened. We need to learn what the non-human world needs to thrive and learn what we are doing to block that. We need to correct our ways to lighten our footprint on the world. “Go light” can mean many different things and I think that was a smart use of language to end the poem without punctuation or a specific noun to attach to the act of going light. It allows the reader to really think about their relationship with nature and what they are placing too heavy a burden on.

In my eyes, I see “go light” as a way of saying go easy or continue on with little concrete trace. This is a powerful line to me because it leaves me with a sense of frustration about what he specifically means. It forces me to critique my own life, and the impact I have on my environment, and the non-human world around me. What could I be doing to make a difference? What lessons can I learn and thus teach my children? How can I use the energy of language to help make the climb that Snyder talks about?

Again, so many questions left unanswered, but more lasting thoughts provoked.

Snyder does an excellent job of conveying the sense of pride he has of where he comes from and who his ancestors are. The concept of what Turtle Island was before man took over is chilling. Language is something that has been passed down from our ancestors and adapted over the years. The myths and tales that our families tell, show the importance of keeping our connections with the memories and the nonhuman world that was living alongside them, is still living around us today. Snyder’s involvement in Buddhism is prevalent throughout his works, and his tribute to his ancestors that he celebrates resonates strongly.

The question, how can we get people to think differently about time and how did we get here, can be asked after reading Turtle Island. Recalling the mistakes man has made over the centuries causes a reflection on how these mistakes have affected Mother Earth.

“How can the head-heavy power-hungry politic scientist
Government             two-world          Capitalist-Imperialist
Third-world              Communist       paper-shuffling male
Non-farmer             jet-set           bureaucrats
Speak for the green of the leaf? Speak for the soil?

North America, Turtle Island, taken by invaders
who wage war around the world.

The robots argue how to parcel out our Mother Earth
to last a little longer
like vultures flapping
belching, gurgling
near a dying Doe.”

This piece of Snyder’s “Mother Earth: Her Wales,” draws on the mistakes man is making now and criticizes our political world for denying the relationship humans must have with nature. The use of the word ‘invaders’ in place of humans sharpens the picture he is painting with his words and shows how destructive we have become. Then using the ‘robot’ to also convey humans takes away their power of thought and presents them as emotionless. Putting this assessment in juxtaposition with the dying doe clarifies the cruelty in mankind’s actions.

Unfortunately, “The world does what it pleases.”

I feel I have a firm relationship with the world around me, though in many ways it could be strengthened. There are a lot of things I don’t agree with that are going on in the world, and after reading Turtle Island I feel selfish to have viewed these issues from merely a human perspective. For example, the idea of war is something I am extremely against. Humans fighting humans has never felt justified in my head. So, after reading “The Call of the Wild” I felt scared.

“So they bomb and they bomb
Day after day, across the planet
blinding sparrows
breaking the ear-drums of owls
splintering trunks of cherries
twining and looping
deer intestines
in the shaken, dusty rocks
All these Americans up in special cities in the sky
Dumping poisons and explosives
Across Asia first,
And next North America,
A war against earth.”

Scared that we are naïve to think that killing humans is okay, and naïve that we don’t even take into effect what war does to the earth. This is because our relationship with humans and earth are two separate things. They are too distant from each other in our minds. That gap needs to close and the way we view things needs to change. Snyder used language to convey this message, it is up to mankind to take this message and do something, also to continue to use language to provoke thoughts to strengthen the human and nonhuman world.

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